Your children leaving the home can feel like a great accomplishment. But once they’ve been gone for a couple of weeks, and your brain realises they’ve actually flown the nest and aren’t just on holiday, it can really stir emotions. If you’ve got empty nest syndrome, here are 6 ways you can reclaim your time and your life.

What is empty nest syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is that feeling of emptiness when your children leave home for good. Suddenly, you have lots more pockets of time – which can be both a good and bad thing. It’s a time of major change, and that can be hard to get your head around.

“It’s a shock when children leave home,” says psychotherapist Toby Ingham. “Whatever stresses and complications have been part of living with your teenagers, when they leave for university, or for new adventures, it can leave you feeling somewhat bereft. You can try and prepare yourself for what’s coming, but the reality will only hit you when it happens.”

“When we speak of empty nest syndrome, we’re referring to feelings of depression, loneliness and grief,” notes Ingham. “Empty nest syndrome isn’t a clinical diagnosis, it’s a human experience of loss and separation. Totally normal, but often very difficult.”

We may think this affects women more than men, but fathers often go through the same experience too.

Empty nest syndrome guide

6 ways to beat empty nest syndrome

Trying to see the positives in this new life stage can be difficult, but given time, you might find yourself totally embracing it. Here are Ingham’s top tips…

  1. Give yourself time to adjust

It’s going to be a big change. There are all kinds of worries attached to not knowing how your children are doing. Are they safe and well? You will all need time to get used to this.

It can be easy to smother your child once they’ve left the house, but some space will do you both good. Regular updates like a good night or good morning text mean you can check your child is safe without making them feel like you’re always checking what they’re doing.

2. Try not to be surprised by the emotions you feel

Some parents experience profound feelings of loneliness when their children leave. Loneliness can be a very powerful feeling and can make it hard to enjoy things while you’re in the grip of it.

In its own way, you are mourning for a period that has come to an end. You will probably feel other upsets, the sense of loss, the worries, or you might find you’re not sleeping so well. With all of these things, try to go easy on yourself.

3. Think about your new schedule

What you want to do? You will likely have time in the evenings and during the day to do new things. There will be opportunities to spend more quality time with your partner, or family and friends.

But again, if you have spent the last 18 years being pushed around by your children’s agendas, you will need to give yourself time to adapt to this new world.

Take some time to consider some goals. Would you like to take up a new hobby or decorate the house? Having a goal and deadline in mind can give you the motivation you might be lacking at the moment.

4. Don’t expect too much of yourself

Change takes a certain amount of time and energy. It might seem difficult at first, but things will settle down in time. All of us adjust to things at different paces.

5. Consider therapy

If you find you are struggling, if the loneliness and low mood feels like it’s settled in, then you might think about seeing a psychotherapist, possibly for just a couple of sessions.

It will give you a confidential place in which to talk through your emotions and experience. Try to remember it’s completely normal that you are feeling the loss of the children around the home.

6. Start to plan things with your friends

Spending time with friends or catching up with people you haven’t seen so much of recently is a great distraction, but will also enrich your life. Perhaps your friends are going through this transition too.

It generally helps to be able to share our feelings. It punctures the sense of loneliness. It might feel a bit odd at first to be picking up these old relationships, but try to take it easy and give yourself time. Pretty soon, you may find yourself looking forward to seeing them and planning new things to do together.

Being around other people will help keep you busy and occupied, and can really help with depression. If you’re going through a hard time, remember there are people who can help. Websites like Calm can help you keep things in perspective when you’re struggling.

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